With the growing popularity of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) – also known as “granny flats” or “in-law suites” – more building contractors are jumping on the opportunity. But building an ADU is different from building a primary home and other types of construction projects. Even if a contractor is excellent at some types of construction, they may not be familiar with the particulars of building an ADU.

To help you find the right accessory dwelling unit contractor for your project, we’ve outlined some of the most important things to consider when shopping for one. You’ll find a list of the qualities that make a contractor a good ADU contractor in the article that follows. We’ve also provided a list of questions you should ask to help you evaluate a contractor when you talk to them about your project.

What Is an Accessory Dwelling Unit Contractor?

Technically, an accessory dwelling unit contractor is a licensed contractor that is willing to build an ADU. However, while many contractors will agree to build an ADU, some specialize in building them. Like with just about anything else, you are more likely to get the best results when you hire a specialist for the job.

Why Choose an ADU Specialist

It may seem like an ADU is a structure just like any other structure such as a house or garage. However, there are differences in how ADUs are designed and constructed that a specialty contractor will be more knowledgeable about and experienced with.

There are a few reasons why an ADU specialist contractor can be a better choice than a general builder for your project:

  • Local regulations: Regulations about how and where you can build your ADU vary between locations and change from time to time. The first step in your process should be figuring out if you can actually build an in-law suite on your property. An ADU specialist is more likely to be up-to-date on these regulations and know from the outset what type of unit you can build.
  • Permitting: ADUs require different permits than other types of construction projects. A contractor that specializes in building ADUs will know exactly what permits you need, where to get them, and how long they take, saving you time and money over someone who is less familiar with permitting policies.
  • Designs: With lots of experience building ADUs, a specialist has a good understanding of what designs work well for accessory units and, more importantly, what won’t. They’ll also know which designs are better for different purposes, such as a rental unit compared to a home studio space. A contractor that is less experienced with ADUs may not understand the best ways to build smaller spaces.
  • Building experience: Because ADUs are built on an existing site in a limited space, there are challenges to building them that you don’t have when building on a fresh lot. An ADU specialist will know what types of machinery to use and how to develop your site with the least amount of disruption to your property possible.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Builders: What To Look For

When you shop for an ADU contractor, you’ll want to know how to evaluate them. The qualities that make a good ADU builder are slightly different from what you’d look for in other types of contractors.

Specialized Business

As we mentioned earlier, the best ADU contractor is one that makes accessory dwellings their main business. Specialists know how to get the job done efficiently and properly. Their experience also allows them to provide a more accurate, realistic estimate for the cost of your build. With an experienced ADU builder, you are less likely to run into issues, frustrations, and extra expenses you didn’t plan for.

Positive Reputation

You can learn a lot about a contractor from other people’s experience with them. Online reviews on Google, Yelp, and other sites can provide insight into how well a particular contractor serves their clients. 

When it comes to online reviews, the content of these reviews is more important than the star rating because they detail the customer experience. A few negative reviews isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as nobody is perfect. But if you notice consistent patterns in bad reviews, such as a contractor charging more than they initially estimated, that’s a sign that you should look elsewhere.

Personalized Approach

For you, your ADU is a personal project that is both a major expense and something you hope to use for years to come. But for many contractors, it’s just another job. However, some contractors invest the time and energy into their clients to understand their personal needs and wishes.

When talking to a contractor, pay attention to how well they listen. Some are just hoping to close a deal. Others will listen attentively and work with you to help understand your vision and your circumstances. The ADU contractors who give you personal attention when you meet them are much more likely to do so throughout the process.

Hassle-Free Process

Building an ADU is a lengthy and complicated process. Some contractors leave much of the work of finding financing, understanding local regulations and HOA restrictions, and other tasks to the client. Others, however, put in the extra effort to make the process as easy as possible.

At Feel Love Homes, we do everything we can to take the stress and legwork out of the ADU building process for our clients. We help pair clients with lenders to help finance their build and handle almost all of the paperwork, so you can focus on getting excited about your ADU.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Plans You Like

As ADUs have become more popular, prefab designs have swarmed the market. A prefab ADU can be a good option, but only if it’s what you want. Some contractors will push you towards designs that are easy and cheap for them to build, even if you’re not fully happy with the design. But a good ADU contractor will offer plans that feel right from the start and be willing to work with you to make adjustments that make your ADU just how you want it.

Genuine Local Presence

In North Carolina especially, where soaring property values have made ADUs a profitable investment for homeowners, you’ll find lots of contractors looking to capitalize on a hot market. Many of these builders may not be from the area and won’t be invested in it. That can make it easy for them to not care about their long-term reputation and affect how they treat clients.

However, you can also find ADU contractors who are from your part of North Carolina or have made it their home. These people are more likely to have well-developed relationships with workers and people in planning and permitting offices. They’re also more likely to care about what you want to build.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your ADU Contractor

When you are considering a certain contractor, you should think of it like a job interview. You are the client and you should feel fully comfortable with the builder you choose to hire. Below, you’ll find five questions that are important to ask a potential ADU contractor to help you decide whether or not to hire them.

1. Are ADUs your main business?

Many builders that advertise building ADUs only do so as a side project from their main business. That may be hard to tell from what you find online. Ask the contractor straight up if they specialize in ADUs or, at the very least, have extensive experience building them.

2. Do you use prefab accessory dwelling units?

Unless a prefab ADU is what you’re looking for, you’ll want to make sure that’s not what you’re going to get. If you want a unit that’s designed with you and your property in mind, make sure to find out exactly what you’re going to get. Ask the contractor you’re talking to whether they will install a prefab ADU on your property or if they have their own designs that they can adjust to your preference.

3. Will you help me with permitting and compliance?

Permitting and other compliance tasks can be a major headache, especially if you’ve never done them before. Some contractors are happy to use their experience and connections to help you with these tasks. This can make a big difference in the amount of time and stress involved in building an ADU.

4. Do you have experience in my area?

Having experience building ADUs is one thing, but with the differences in regulations, soil conditions, and other factors between areas, experience building ADUs in your specific area is a huge advantage. Contractors who have built ADUs in your city or town are likely to be more efficient and run into fewer problems.

5. How do you vet your workers and subcontractors?

You’ll also want to know that the people building your ADU are fit for the job. Some contractors will take just about anyone who is willing to show up. Others take the time to carefully vet the people they hire for the job, ensuring that it gets done properly. Ask your contractor how carefully they vet their workers and what qualifications they need to meet to work for them.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Contractors: Conclusion

The difference between the right ADU contractor for the job and the wrong one can be massive. A contractor who isn’t a good fit for the job may leave you with a poor-quality ADU, make the process difficult and frustrating, or take much longer to finish the job than they should. On the other hand, a skilled and experienced contractor who has lots of experience building ADUs in your area is likely to produce the results they promise, leaving you with an accessory unit you love for years to come.

At Feel Love Homes, ADUs are what we do. We specialize in building in-law suites that fit our clients’ vision and budget and maximize the value they add to the property. If you’re interested in learning more about our process, click the button below to request a free consultation.